What major philosophical points dominate Hamlet's soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 1?

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cybil eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet struggles with how "to be"--how to live in the corrupt world he finds himself in. Should he fight against the problems or simply end his life? Considering that second option dominates the soliloquy. He regards death like sleep, but one often has dreams, even nightmares, during sleep. What if death is just one long nightmare? Yet when he considers all of the injustice he faces, he could so easily end his life ("his quietus make") by a "bare bodkin" (dagger or knife). The main obstacle to his doing so is that nobody knows what comes after death; Hamlet says death is the "undiscovered country" from which "no traveller returns." Therefore, he will continue to endure the burdens ("fardels") and problems in his life. When he says "conscience does make cowards of us all" he reveals that despite his resolution to act--either to fight against his troubles or to take his life--Hamlet continues to hesitate. He does not yet know how "to be." That question will not be answered until Act 5.

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